Q&A: Rich Hall

Comedian Rich Hall
Comedian Rich Hall

The wonderfully acerbic comedian Rich Hall is about to come on stage, and he would like your undivided attention, writes James Rampton

 

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO MOST ABOUT DOING A LIVE SHOW?
What I love about stand-up is the immediacy of it. Having run the gamut of TV panel shows, after a while you know how to do them and they are not so much fun any more. But now I know I’m going to be on stage somewhere like Melksham, and that prospect is really exciting. For those two hours, no one is looking at their phones. It’s a true non-media event. Those sorts of occasions are rapidly disappearing, and that’s why I value them so much.
DO YOU GET A KICK OUT OF TOURING THIS COUNTRY?
I may have become overly familiar with the motorway service stations of the UK, but I really like discovering new places. It’s important to visit out-of-the-way towns, because it gives you a new perspective.

ONE ASPECT THAT DISTINGUISHES YOUR ACT IS THE WAY YOU CAN CRAFT ON-THE-SPOT SONGS FROM INFORMATION GLEANED FROM THE AUDIENCE. TELL US ABOUT THAT
I do what Americans call “crowd work”. I really enjoy that, because I can turn it into improvised songs, which is a big thrill for me. I always have a guitar beside me on stage in case something happens. If you told me I would have to listen to anyone – apart from Richard Pryor – on stage for two hours, I’d think: “Oh, God!” So it’s good to break up the show with musical interludes.
It’s funny, the less I get from people, the more you can improvise. Nothing is out of bounds. I want them to tell me “I’m a clerk,” rather than “I work for the council finance department and am involved in the end of year expenditure.” As soon as I hear the word “clerk”, my head immediately starts formulating rhymes for it.

DOES THE BY-THE-YARD, ROTE NATURE OF SO MANY COMEDIANS’ MATERIAL ANNOY YOU?
What is exasperating is that, as comedians, we live by the word. I see that deteriorating very swiftly, and I find it really scary. There doesn’t seem to be any appreciation any more of the written and spoken word. Everything is turning into shorthand. When a comedian like Dylan Moran gets on stage and speaks in his own very distinctive language, that really appeals to me. But nowadays, many performers are simply acting out the role of comedian and going through the motions. They use a very predictable cadence of comedy – “here comes the punchline”. If you close your eyes, you can hear it coming. But in order to have a very individual way of saying things, you need to perfect that live.

WHY DID YOU OPT TO HAVE AN IRATE PERSONA FOR YOUR COMEDY?
It works because people know that I’m not really that angry. Anyone that angry should not be doing comedy. With my style of slow-burn comedy, the crowd know that you can’t be that worked up. The worst thing you can do is get really angry on stage: then you’ve lost it and you’re in Michael Richards territory. I’m not really angry at all. There are very small outward changes in my emotions. I have a sort of deadpan Walter Matthau visage. People think: “this guy looks grumpy”, but that’s just how my face is put together. Your comic demeanour has to match your face. Most comedians fit their face.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT BRITISH AUDIENCES?
British audiences are always very appreciative of the spoken word. People here also find it refreshing that I’m very detached from America. I’m not waving a flag or pretending that I’m hipper than you because I happen to be from the US. You get that a lot from American comedians. They take on an urbane persona, and the references they drop are designed to make you think that they’re clued into things and that you have to catch up with them. If you laugh at them, you’re part of their exclusive club. Their way of cultivating the crowd is to make you think they’re hipper than everyone else. But I’ve never gone in for that sort of act.
Brits like to insult you. Sometimes, they come to the stage door after the show and say: “We really prefer Lee Mack.” They don’t even say: “We really enjoyed your show – you’re our second favourite behind Lee Mack.” But I know the subtext: they must quite like me if they have waited in line to insult me.

You can catch Rich Hall 3:10 to Humour at the Woodend Barn, Banchory, on Sunday, January 31; Eden court Theatre, Inverness, on Monday, February 1; Mareel Theatre, Shetland, on February 2; Pickaquoy Cinema, Orkney, on February 3; Universal Hall, Findhorn, on February 5; Macphail Centre, Ullapool, on Saturday, February 6; An Lanntair, Stornoway, on February 8 and the Aros Centre, Skye, on February 9. Contact: www.offthekerb.co.uk

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